Chapter 7 : Resiliency

A topic I’ve been thinking about frequently is what has given me the courage to finally accept the treatment I’ve needed for so long. I’m starting to get a feel for what that answer may be, but to help you understand, some context is needed.

My first memory of any type therapy was seeing a child psychologist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) when I was maybe 12 or 13. I can’t remember the inciting incident that brought me to see this doctor, but I can remember I was not ready. All of my answers were by the book, and I gave no indication that anything was wrong. I was young, I did not want to be in therapy, and I most definitely did not have the emotional intelligence yet to process what I was feeling.

It wasn’t until my second year of High School that I started to see a therapist on a regular basis. In this case, I remember the inciting incidents. My freshman year grades were god awful (at one point I had a D in physics), and my favorite weekend activity was watching TV in the confines of our dark basement. My parents were worried (rightfully so!), and therapy was deemed not only a good thing, but a necessary thing. As I alluded to in “My Voice” I really struggled at first with this therapist. My intense dislike of talking about myself was already firmly entrenched in my personality, and little progress was made until we uncovered the writing trick.

However despite the progress made from writing, I still wasn’t fully opening up with this doctor. I certainly wasn’t going to come out to him because frankly I hadn’t come out to myself yet. I also started to learn how to ‘game’ therapy. I figured out how to give satisfactory answers without revealing anything, and I became adept at steering away from uncomfortable subjects with ease. At a certain point my senior year, I had maxed out the utility I could derive from this therapist.

As I moved on to college, I stopped seeing a therapist. I had new tools to combat the academic issues that plagued me in High School, and I was much less of a hermit than I was before therapy thanks to a close group of disparate friends I had somehow made. At the time the logic of no therapy made sense.

Yet the logic broke down immediately. My first night of college (IE moving into dorms), I lay alone in my dorm room, listening to a Jaguars pre-season game on NFL Radio. My roommate was out to dinner with his family, and my Mom had left some time ago to give me some ‘space’. Sitting on my bed, I could hear the cacophony of others moving in, meeting each other for the first time, and enjoying that first taste of freedom. Soon enough laughter had crept into my empty dorm room underneath the locked door, and it was beckoning me to come out from my shell. The expectation was that I would go out that night, meet new friends, and enjoy the revelry that is your first night as a college student. But I panicked and I froze. So many people, so many strangers, so many variables I couldn’t control. I ended up crying on my bed, disappointed in myself for staying in alone and making no effort to go outside and socialize. That first night of college was one of the worst nights of my life.

In a cruel twist of fate and a story I’ll tell later on, my last night of college also happened to be one of the worst nights of my life. You see, as college progressed, I became more acutely aware of the severity and irregularity of my anxiety. By my last year of college my anxiety was all encompassing and a major blocker in my life. As I looked past graduation and into the realm of the working world, I didn’t see a place for me. I subconsciously knew that leaving college and moving into the real world meant I would have to become the real ‘me’ as well. Unfortunately, the prospect of revealing the ‘real me’ was too much for me to bear.

Since I didn’t have a doctor to help me unspool my tangled web of thoughts, the wear and tear of four awful years of college was tightly wound and expertly hidden away in my retreating heart. I absolutely should have seen a therapist regularly in college, but I never pulled the trigger. Both figuratively and literally. When I look back and think about how badly I was feeling my last semester of college, I’m amazed I’m still alive.

When you get a broken bone you don’t think about whether or not you should treat the injury for you can’t imagine having to live the rest of your life with a broken bone. But with depression and anxiety you can’t pinpoint the break, you can’t pinpoint the how, and you can’t pinpoint the why. So what ends up happening is you start to try to live a ‘normal’ life in spite of your illness. It becomes a part of you, and it becomes your internal identity.

Both of my new doctors have said I’m very resilient, and when I first heard that it bothered me. If I was so resilient I thought to myself, then I wouldn’t be sitting in this couch talking to a doctor about my 27 years of failure. Yet after a few sessions, I now understand what they mean.

I’ve been living my life for so long not with a broken bone or a damaged ligament, but with a broken heart. Waking up everyday feeling the weight of that pain is often times impossible to bear, and my heart thumps with crying ferocity each night as I try to unwind and sleep. However, I choose to wake up and I chose to fall asleep each day despite this broken feeling. This daily choice, to keep living, is the embodiment of my resiliency, and that realization makes me finally believe I have the strength to fix myself.

More to come,

Mike

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